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Bar association calls for overhaul of criminal defense system for the poor

The New York State Bar Association is calling for an overhaul of New York's criminal defense system for the poor.  The lawyers say it should be a top priority for state lawmakers and Governor Andrew Cuomo during the current legislative session. 

"Criminal justice reform in New York must begin with ensuring that everyone accused of a crime, regardless of income, has an attorney, as required by the U.S. Constitution," President David P. Miranda said. "Despite improvement in some geographic areas, our indigent criminal defense system still relies on overworked and underfunded defense attorneys."

"The State Bar Association strongly supports legislation to require full state funding for - and oversight of - indigent criminal defense services," said Miranda. He praised Senator John DeFrancisco (R-Onondaga County) and Assemblymember Patricia Fahy (D-Albany County) for introducing bills to achieve those goals.

On May 4, the Assembly Codes Committee approved Fahey's bill (A.6202-C). Earlier in the week, DeFrancisco said enactment of the bill (S.6341-A) that  would provide fiscal relief to county governments is one of his priorities for the 2016 session.

At a joint press conference earlier this year, DeFrancisco and Fahy were joined by other lawmakers, Miranda and officials of the state Association of Counties, who all support state financing of indigent criminal services.

In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Gideon v. Wainwright that states must provide legal representation to criminal defendants who cannot afford to hire a lawyer. Instead of assuming the cost itself, New York has required counties - big and small, urban and rural - to bear most of the expense.

The 74,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary bar association in the nation.